Paperless HR: Is It Really Possible? You Betcha!

I’m asked this surprisingly quite frequently, even though we’ve been talking about paperless business for nearly 2 decades now.  The historical paperless movement began much the same way that any business must begin a paperless initiative: by building an e-document storage infrastructure that replaces the bank of filing cabinets and storage boxes.  There are many (dozens) of excellent document and content management systems on the market (I even wrote one of the first ones to run in Windows, back in the day when companies like FileNet and Documentum were not much bigger than we were; oh, if I’d only stuck with it!); but of course our favorite ECM system is Hyarchis.Net, the system offered by our Dutch partner.

Of course Human Resources poses some unique challenges and requirements for document storage, particularly when it comes to data security and separation of sensitive employee data (the compliance rule that I9s be stored separate from all other employee documents being a perfect example).  This might explain why, when some companies have embraced a document management strategy at the operational level, HR has been left in the dark (or should I say “in the paper”?) or at best left to fend for themselves.  The HRIS analyst challenged with identifying an HR document management strategy is well advised to evaluate systems from the perspectives of physical document separation, compliance and business rules enforcement, and long term maintenance of the system (yet another example of SaaS’s value in HR).

Obviously though, a firm foundation of document storage doesn’t implement a paperless process, as many a company has learned, and neither does it implement a paperless human resources environment.  The next step, then, is to stem the tide of incoming paper.  This is accomplished with changes to (i.e. automations of) HR business processes.  Identify your sources of paper and seek to automate the underlying processes.  In most HR environments, these sources are:

Employment Applications: If you haven’t already, implement recruiting technology (aka an Applicant Tracking System).  There are literally dozens of web-based systems on the market, like one of our partners, iCIMS, practically all providing the ability to replace your paper applications with online applications.  Many take the process a step further and allow you to implement custom business process and workflow for subsequent handling of the application and facilitating matching the applicant to a job opening.  Evaluate your recruiting technology partner for flexibility and ability to meet your unique recruiting process.

Newhire Forms: The new employee forms package, whether only the 2 universal forms (federal W4 and I9), or dozens of tax forms, acknowledgement forms, policy statements, benefits forms, etc., is infamous in HR as a principle source of paper.  A lot is being written nowadays about onboarding systems as a tool for engaging and socializing an employee, and while this is an important aspect of onboarding, it’s only a piece of the onboarding puzzle, one we (and some industry analysts) call acculturation onboarding.  While acculturation is an important and effective tool for many companies, transactional onboarding is an important tool for ALL companies (if you need more information on acculturation vs transactional onboarding, let me know: I can send you a great article).  Begin your evaluation and selection of an onboarding platform not by what vendors tell you is best practice, but instead on what your company’s business rules, processes, and policies are and how flexibly your onboarding vendor can adapt to your unique requirements.  And of course if your needs include transactional onboarding (and they should), I humbly ask for the opportunity to show you our system 🙂 or read about it for yourself at

Personnel Action Forms: This is the dreaded form that every organization has.  It goes by several different names: Personnel Change Form, Personnel Action Notice, Personnel Action Notification, Employee Status Change Form, Employee Change Request, etc.  HR invents it by necessity and distributes it to operational management with detail instructions on completing it for practically every task from requesting the creation of a new position to terminating an employee.  For large, distributed organizations with hundreds or thousands of managers, the deluge of paper necessitates an army of HR people to wade through, correct, review, approve, and facilitate change in the appropriate systems.  HRMS systems try to automate the process by introducing “application workflow”, which makes it easier to submit and accomplish tasks within their systems, but what if the process must address requirements outside their system, such as approvals by people who aren’t users of the HRMS system, or tasks assigned to people who aren’t even employees of the company (like outsourced benefits administrators)?  Few products can address the complex requirements of employee change in a truly flexible business process (workflow) fashion, and in fact I know of only one: our own PAN (Personnel Action Notices) product.  PAN provides a user-friendly method of allowing field management to enter employee change requests over the web, while enforcing business rules, and implementing a completely flexible business process that can operate over and above not only the HRMS system, but all core business systems.  This approach is a truly practical way to eliminating, through automation, the personnel action form.

Staff Service Requests: Another common form is that form which field management uses to request stuff for their employees.  Also known as Requisitioning, managers use this form to request both tangible items (desks, computers, company cars) and intangible items (network access, email accounts).  All too often employee materials requisitioning is associated with onboarding; yes, there’s a flurry of requisitioning around the time an employee comes onboard, but isn’t requisitioning really an employee lifecycle process?  There are non-onboarding requisitioning systems on the market, but they don’t inherently take into consideration the employer-employee relationship and enforce managers requesting materials for their immediate employees, and approval processes taking into consideration “chain of command”.  Of course our SSR product (sorry, more shameless promotion here) does both of these, and also allows your managers to requisition certain materials the moment the position is open, perhaps months before a candidate has been extended an offer.

Automate these processes and you can actually implement a truly paperless HR environment, just like a bunch of our customers.  If I’ve left out a form or paper-based process, let me know about it so we can write a product for it.

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